The State of Everest: Climbers Weigh In

Photographs by Cory Richards

Dave Dingman, 76

1963 American Everest Expedition

It’s the ultimate expression of an endurance sport now. And that is different than the mountaineering culture that it was in our time.

When four of his 1963 teammates were missing on Everest, Dingman, a surgeon, forfeited his own chance to summit to find and then care for them. The team later received the National Geographic Society’s highest honor, the Hubbard Medal.

Home: Salt Lake City, Utah

Conrad Anker, 50

1999 Mallory Expedition, North Ridge

If Everest can still be that mountain that inspires exploration, it serves something to the greater direction of humanity—because we are explorers as humans.

World-class mountaineer Anker found the body of George Mallory on Everest in 1999. He later free-climbed the Second Step in 2007, proving it was possible Mallory and Irvine could have summited in 1924, though the mystery remains.

Home: Bozeman, Montana

Dave Morton, 41

Everest Climber and Guide

When people think of mountains, they think of Everest. It’s the highest mountain in the world and it’s become its own identity—in and of itself—aside from any of the climbing that is done on it.

Morton has guided and climbed throughout the Cascades, Andes, Himalaya, Altai, Alaska Range, and Caucasus.

Home: Seattle, Washington

Melissa Arnot, 29

Everest Climber and Guide

Fifty years of Americans on Everest is a great opportunity to look at how we’re interacting with this special and sacred place, and ask ourselves: Is this the place that we want it to be in another 50 years?

If her 2013 expedition goes as planned, Arnot will have five Everest summits, more than any other woman.

Home: Ketchum, Idaho

Jim Whittaker, 84

1963 American Everest Expedition, First American Summiteer

You can step off that route a quarter of a mile and you’ll never see anybody on Everest. On Rainier, I can leave that parking lot and walk nude for hours and nobody will see me because there are places that people don’t go in the mountain.

As the first American to stand atop Everest, Whittaker became a national hero. He was also the first full-time employee and later CEO of REI.

Home: Seattle, Washington

Ed Webster, 57

1988 Everest Expedition, Kangshung Face

We wanted to go one step further than what had been done before ... We just loved climbing and I think it’s fair to say that we loved Everest.

On his climb in 1988, Webster and his team attempted to climb the Kangshung Face without fixed ropes, supplemental oxygen, or Sherpa support. Only one team member, Stephen Venables, summited, and many lost fingers and toes. (Webster lost the tips of seven fingers and a thumb.) Yet Reinhold Messner called their expedition the “best ascent of Everest in terms and style of pure adventure.”

Home: Harpswell, Maine

Norbu Tenzing Norgay, 50

Son of Tenzing Norgay

Ninety-nine percent of Sherpas climb because it’s work. It’s just to climb, get on the mountain, come back, and put the kids to school. Few Sherpas—my father being an exception—climb Everest because they actually want to climb.

Norbu is the vice president of the American Himalayan Foundation. He says his father climbed Everest so Norbu didn’t have to.

Home: San Francisco, California

Cory Richards, 33

National Geographic Photographer and Climber

There are still ways to make Everest matter ... and that’s why I want to go back.

Richards, who was part of a National Geographic-sponsored Everest expedition in 2012, made the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II with Simone Moro and Denis Urubko in 2011. He shoots regularly for National Geographic magazine.

Home: Boulder, Colorado

Photograph by Mark Stone

George Lowe III, 68

1983 Everest Expedition, Kangshung Face

My life is independent of Everest. Everest wasn’t the best climb I did. The best climb I did I failed on about 150 meters or 200 meters from the top. I would challenge National Geographic to take Everest off of the pedestal.

Lowe’s team summited the Kangshung Face in 1983 after an aborted attempt in 1981. His namesake, Lowe’s Buttress, is a 3,500-foot rock and ice wall on Everest’s Kangshung Face. Climbing the buttress took 28 days.

Home: Denver, Colorado

Freddie Wilkinson, 33

Climber and Writer

Is Everest the mirror or the lamp? Does it mean anything to boldly go where thousands of people have been before? Or is it just the mirror reflecting back at you what you think you’re seeking? It’s different for everyone.

A regular climber in the great mountain ranges of the world, Wilkinson’s first book, One Mountain Thousand Summits: The Untold Story of Tragedy and True Heroism on K2, came out in 2010. His first National Geographic magazine feature story, about climbing virgin mountains in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, will come out in September 2013.

Home: North Conway, New Hampshire

Tom Hornbein, 82

1963 American Everest Expedition, West Ridge First Ascent

It was certainly not the hardest climb I’ve ever done, nor the most physically demanding. In many ways, it has been very satisfying—the whole dynamic of two teams trying two routes. You can’t deny the luck involved.

Hornbein’s new edition of The West Ridge, which inspired countless young climbers and is considered to be one of the best Everest climbing accounts ever written, was released in May 2013.

Home: Estes Park, Colorado

Mike Libecki, 40

Climber and Explorer

Everest is about as opposite as it gets from what I do—first ascents and exploration. This is a mental exploration for me. It’s also an opportunity for other firsts. I’m helping spread inspiration to African women, women in general, and to my daughter.

Known for traveling to remote places, Libecki will make his first expedition to Everest in 2014 when he guides the first African woman, hopefully, to the summit.

Home: Salt Lake City, Utah

Norman Dyhrenfurth, 95

1963 American Everest Expedition Leader

Mountaineering should be passion. Not just to go home and say, ‘Well, I’ve climbed Mount Everest.’ It’s absurd. And most of them really shouldn’t be there.

Dyhrenfurth, a Swiss-born filmmaker, was the official photographer on the 1952 Swiss Everest attempt. He was on several other Himalayan expeditions before leading the successful 1963 American Everest Expedition. He received the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society's highest honor, on behalf of the team.

Home: Salzburg, Austria

Jake Norton, 39

Everest Climber and Guide

Everest is this microcosm of humanity—warts and all, but beauty and all, too. You see it in war, as well, in any extreme environment where the amp is cranked up and everything is magnified. It brings out the absolute best in humans and the absolute worst.

Norton, who speaks fluent Nepali, was part of the team that discovered the body of George Mallory on Everest in 1999 and was the first person to visit and document all of the pre-World War II camps on Everest.

Home: Golden, Colorado

Brent Bishop, 47

Everest Climber

From a climbing standpoint, the regular route holds no significance. Certainly from a personal standpoint, there’s a lot of significance to anybody who wants to step forth and try to summit Everest.

Brent is the son of Barry Bishop, who was a longtime National Geographic photographer and part of the 1963 American Everest Expedition. In 1994 Brent co-founded the Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition (SEE), an organization committed to cleaning trash off the slopes of Everest. It has removed more than 25,000 pounds of trash from the mountain.

Home: Seattle, Washington

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